Science Jews

Haim Watzman It’s not the headline that’s remarkable, it’s the picture. The website of the great science journal that I occasionally do news pieces for, Nature, has a headline today that is already somewhat ho-hum. Jews Worldwide Share Genetic Ties! We’ve seen this before, in reports of studies of mitochondrial DNA (which is inherited only … Read more

The Haman Gene

Haim Watzman

According to disturbing report in the latest issue of the British scientific journal Nature, a team of geneticists based at pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. has discovered that a strange set of markers shared by 90 percent of all Jews indicates widespread intermarriage with the Amalekite nation in the Middle Bronze Age.

The comparative study became possible when a team of Israeli archaeologists uncovered an ancient Amalekite cemetery in a lightning excavation carried out in the Gaza Strip under air cover during Israel’s recent Operation Cast Lead. The cemetery contained human bones along with pottery depicting heroic attacks on the women and children of a contingent of dessert nomads, almost incontrovertible proof that the site belongs to the ancient Amalekite civilization. DNA extracted from the bones was used for a comparative study with the DNA of modern Jews.

“Given the Bible’s severe condemnation of the Amalekite people, and its command that the Israelites destroy them utterly, it’s nothing short of surprising to find that the two nations intermarried,” admitted the noted scholar of Jewish civilization and leading intellectual and adviser to Israeli leaders Yoram Hazony. “It will require a major reconceptualization of who and what the Jewish people are.”

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Keep the Faith: The Jews Vote Obama

Oops. It didn’t work. Labeling him a Muslim, labeling him a crazy black man, saying he’ll be bad for Israel. Apparently, those scare tactics stirred up exactly that minority of American Jews who don’t vote Democratic anyway. Well, we all have relatives we don’t understand. The rest know how to translate “In every generation, a … Read more

Bubbe, Call Your Grandkid for Obama

Gershom Gorenberg

The premise of the Great Schlep was that young Jews of Obama should visit their grandparents in Florida to make sure they vote in a manner befitting members of the tribe. Behind that premise were several more suppositions: that Florida is in play, that rightwing hatemail labeling Obama as a Muslim and anti-Israel might finally bring Jews to shift rightward, and that older Jewish voters were more likely than younger ones to fall for the rumors and vote for the old white-haired dude.

According to the latest polling, only one of those suppositions is true: Florida is in play, so how your bubbe votes in Delray Beach could determine the future of Planet Earth. (Imagine that in 2000, 528 more Democrats had been schlepped to their polling places by loving grandchildren. No Iraq War. Global warming under control. Rich folks paying taxes.)

On the other hand, the Jewish shift to the Republicans – heralded every four years – isn’t happening. The tribe still votes left, thank God.

In September, pollster Steven Cohen at NYU polled nearly 1600 Jews – a hefty sample. With undecided voters eliminated, he found:

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Those Filthy, Lying Minorities

Haim Watzman

    They evinced no concern for the cleanliness of the area they lived in.… [T]he streets [were] filthy and stank to the skies.…They were considered to be swindlers, prone to lying. “An Arab never speaks the truth, except by mistake,” said policemen who served in the area.

That’s a description of London’s Jewish neighborhood, the East End, in 1904. I’ve quoted from Anita Shapira’s Brenner: A Life, her fascinating new biography (in Hebrew) of Zionist literary lion Yosef Haim Brenner—except that I’ve replaced the word “Jew” with “Arab.”

Lack of concern for the cleanliness and esthetics of public spaces and untruthfulness are the most common negative traits attributed by Jews to Arabs in Israel. These stereotypes cross all social and political boundaries—I’ve heard them from working-class Israelis in impoverished neighborhoods and from professors at universities, from religious champions of Greater Israel and from peace activists. When I’ve dared to suggest that these characteristics might not be inherent in the Arab character, I am generally silenced with what they see as the irrefutable argument: “You don’t know the Arabs the way I know the Arabs.”

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Biking the 401–Crested Butte, Colorado and the Jewish Question

Ilana was eyeing a silk-print wrap-around skirt as a present for a friend when a retirement-age Jewish mom with an eastern accent started up a conversation with me. When you wear a kipah, everyone assumes you are Israeli.

We spent this morning at the summer arts fair in Crested Butte, Colorado, a town of 1,600 or so permanent residents that forms a half-moon of built-up area in the midst of a plain between high mountain ridges that still boast patches of snow at the beginning of August. Four hours from Denver, it’s not the kind of place you expect to find a Jewish community, but the woman told us that the local synagogue, the cleverly-named Bnai Butte, counts 60 families among its members. If you add to that the Jews for whom Bnai Butte is the shul they refuse to enter, we must be one of the town’s leading denominations and ethnic groups.

Like other minorities, Jews in outlying places either form insular groups or try to beat the locals at their own native culture. The latter was most evident over our weekend in Crested Butte. A dark-complexioned, kinky-haired young mountain biker wearing devil-blue Duke duds (that’s my alma mater) eyed my tzitziot and smiled a greeting as he passed by me on the street on Shabbat, and a heavily tatooed, long-haired country banjo man called out “Shalom” from his street-musician perch.

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